Pte BERTIE HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station: LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd, Walsall. (Censor 934 J.C. Fitzgerald) (1).
The Innocents’ Day (2) Dec 28/ 15
‘I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone’. Miss E. Cavell. (3)
My Dear Sister Ida,
Dreams. Yes I’m on dreams again. I hope you don’t think it is a sentimental, sloppy beginning to my letter to you on your birthday, but do dreams come true to a certain extent? I think so.
I have had such a happy surprise tonight, which not only caused me to write to you after all today (I was thinking of waiting till New Year’s Eve for my vocabulary was exhausted) but it ‘broke my dream’ of one night last week. I was washing up in the kitchen of the Ward – ‘Hibbett’ – I scooted to the caller, thinking he wanted either to dress my foot or order me for something – ’What Regiment are you in?’ I told him, forthwith a chap by him handed me a letter – from England – from Sydney. I have never expected a letter or anything while I have been here & I was indeed bemoaning my disadvantage in this way only this afternoon, thinking when I should hear from Mum again & if Mum had been writing in vain to me while I am here. Of course I read the letter with deep interest & looked out to see if he had seen you all yet.
Now to explain matters on the subject of dreams, (I must ‘perforce’ enclose Sydney’s letter, otherwise I should not send you all of it, if not at all, for there is something in – which is personal). I can remember that ‘particular’ part of the dream quite plainly now. You, Ida, were very cross with me for some reason & I ran away & after some time the dream changed & a nurse came to me & said something to the effect that Sydney was much better, or such news that I was overjoyed & all of you (Mum I could see) were also delighted. The scene in the dream then became faint & I cannot tell you anymore for fear I encroach upon untruths or a ‘make-up story’.
Now just compare my dream with Sydney’s letter. I did not tumble across it, that my dream was ‘broken’ until after, when my thoughts were about his letter & Sydney himself. 1st he said – ‘A few of us went for another walk – round the country lanes’. In my dream I was in the country & I ran up to a pump when a nurse & some other people (came), I believe Mother & Basil were among them, but the nurse with glasses & smiling face was most prominent for she was the bearer of the good news. Before I go any further I must say that the weather in my dream was sunny & bright green fields fresh.
Notice next that Sydney sais ‘I am almost entirely recovered’. Perhaps the nurse in my dream said those very words, they were certainly to that effect, for Mum & Ida & all of you were so glad & I was in ecstasy. ‘A nurse always goes with us & any sergeant with the party’ – I saw a party in my dream & a nurse, but I did not see Sydney. Sydney seemed to be somewhere else in my dream. I felt, just as I feel now, with regard to where Sydney was in my dream – out of it.
The climax or the points that broke my dream was Sydney mentioning ‘I am almost entirely recovered’ & ‘a nurse goes with us’ and ‘a party’.
Have you ever read that striking article in the London Magazine about the Transmission of the Mind (4)? Am I superstitious, I hope you don’t think I am, but I believe, to a certain extent, through thinking about other people, especially those dear to you (we speak of one dear & near to another) one’s thoughts carry themselves into their dreams. It is all to do with the mind. And then again I say I don’t believe in superstition and I often ignore all such tomfoolery & go slap bang into a supposed superstition – say if it is walking under a ladder or crossing knives – I absolutely ignore it, & when I do that, I find nothing whatever happens afterwards, as would be foretold by a superstitious believer.
I say, if I don’t believe in superstition, the case must be one in which Providence was with me.
I believe in Angels, & I much admired what Mum has said in her letters to me referring to angels. I believe that an angel was with me whenever I dreamt of you all at Home. Now believing in angels is not superstitious. ‘I believe in the Communion of Saints’ (5) we say, well then, those relatives & friends we loved while on earth, are they not communicating with us? – & trying to keep us happy & acting as God’s Messengers?
Although Sydney ran a great risk of having his letter mislaid, it has wrought a happy result & broke my spell of melancholia , which I had slightly this afternoon, owing to the reaction – it is so quiet here sometimes & strangers about. I looked at your photo of you sitting on a camp chair with a book on your lap outside the Study window & tried to think of all your good advice.
I trust you have had a Happy Birthday. I went to Holy Communion this morning & a lot of RAMC patients were there considering. We went to pray for the wounded that came in on Monday evening. I asked one of the casualties what sort of time he had on Christmas day in the trenches & he said ‘we had nothing, but we went over the top to shake hands with the enemy’ – a fact confirmed by the Chaplain when he came round with the cigs that night. The British were the first to go over & the 1st to resume fighting. The enemy also came over to play their band. Do you blame our side? I don’t, so far as shaking hands goes, for what does the Collect for St Stephen’s Day say? (6).
Well I dare say you will get this letter early enough to wish you all again a Very Happy New Year. I shall see you all in God’s good time.
I sincerely hope Sydney will have his 7 -10 days sick leave. Hurrah & I hope he will have another good time, and let every day, as it comes & goes, be blessed, & then Hurrah he might be in England for such length of time as to have leave & see you again & again.
Am I superstitious? Really, you don’t say so, – never mind.
I am always your loving brother,
PS Patients are directed NOT to have their parcels & letters addressed to them at this Hospital, so I advise you not to take the risk Sydney did. Wait till I get back to the Batt.
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.
MARSEILLES (SANTI CAMP).
28th Dec. Company & Battalion Training continued (in preparation for Eastern Front).
TOTAL CASUALTIES for DECEMBER 1915: KILLED: 1; WOUNDED: nil.
Signed: R.R. RAYMER Lt Col. Cmdg 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt.
This Letter is interesting in the evidence it gives of a Christmas Truce in 1915 (as well as Christmas 1914) when the enemy came over to ‘shake hands’ and ‘to play their band’.
In the loneliness of Christmas 1915, Pte Bertie Hibbett’s belief in Providence, the presence of angels, protection of saints and answers to prayers, and the comfort he receives from dreams and coincidences, is clearly becoming stronger. It was a search for meaning in the face of death that he appears to have shared with many soldiers in WW1.
(1) Censor: J.C.Fitzgerald*. Army Chaplain. Pte Bertie met him again when training for the Anglican Ministry at Lichfield Theological College, 1918+. (2) The Innocents’ Day: commemoration of Massacre of Male Infants by Herod the Great. Mtt. 2.16. cf Letter 24th Dec. 1915.
(3) Edith Cavell : British nurse during First World War/ saved lives of soldiers from both sides/ arrested for helping 200 allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium/ court-martialled, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death/shot by firing squad, 12th Oct. 1915. Worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. Notes from Edith Cavell Trust website. See also Page: Christmas Truce 1915.
Full Quotation reads: “I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. This I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
(4) ‘Transmission of the Mind’. Not easy (without sight of article) to understand what my father meant. In Zen Buddhism the term refers to a ‘flash of insight’/intuitive rather than rational. Here however he seems to be talking more about telepathy and transference of thought from one person to another through dreams. cf Note on The London Magazine. Letter 26th Aug. 1915.
(5) ‘Communion of Saints: Apostles’ Creed. Evening Prayer. Book of Common Prayer. 1662.
NEXT POST: 30th Dec. 1915.